Rowing is nowadays one of the major sports in the Olympic games. Rowing refers to the sport of propelling small and long boats by the aid of levers or oars fixed on the sides of the vessel. In the contemporary sports industry, rowers compete in a group or at an individual level. In a group competition, the members of a crew are either, eight, four or two. Early forms of rowing were witnessed in the ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece and were purely for transportation and orchestrating war. This means that rowing existed immediately human beings embraced the art of traveling in the water by using boats. However, the first time rowing was referred to as a sport was in around the 15th century as evidenced by the funerary carvings in Egypt. The first rowers used the boats to trade with other parts of the world or fighting. However, nowadays rowing has taken a different turn and has become one of the major sports in the world or as a pastime. This paper will explore the major steps and contribution regarding the history of rowing in the world. In particular, the paper will discuss the history of rowing in Egypt, United Kingdom, and the United States. Finally, the paper will highlight some of the major developments in rowing.
Rowing as a sport has been a present element in human life ever since the development of boats as a traveling method. Rowing originated from the ancient transportation methods whereby people used boats to navigate through the waters. Rowing is also believed to be a key component of wars between regions. Rowing races, therefore, have been present ever since the antiquity period. However during the time, because the sailing was to take more time and energy, the people at that time usually bet on which boat would arrive at the target first. This was the form of rowing races present at the time and marked the beginning of today’s rowing as a sport which surfaced in the 19th century
Rowing in Egypt.
Egypt is regarded as the origin of the earliest boats to be recorded. Many museums store some of the earliest paintings illustrating boats and ships in around 6000BC. The Nile river constitutes the central element of the Egyptian civilization. Most of the human developments to interact with nature took place at the river Nile and consequently, the development diffused to other parts of the world. The need to travel and transport the agricultural goods for batter trade to other regions of the world led to the development of the boat. The development of the boat by the ancient Egyptians made maritime transport a crucial element of trading with other regions (Woods, Michael, & Woods 201). The early boats were built using papyrus reeds because the wood was scarce at that time. The rowers used oars attached at the side edges of the boats to propel the boats. The rafts made of papyrus reeds were by time developed into large ships that were used for transportation purposes. However, the rafts made of papyrus reeds served the Egyptians for long and was regarded as the fastest transportation by water. This is because the reeds were cheap to acquire and did not involve extensive expertise to make a raft. With time, there was an urgent need to replace the papyrus reeds with wood because of the depletion of the reeds. Therefore, the Egyptians made boats using woods. The woods were tied with ropes so that they do not fall apart while in water. The boats were solely used for the purpose of transportation of goods to and from Egypt. On the other hand, other boats were owned by the Egyptian soldiers who used the boats to guard the Egyptians against foreign attacks. However, the early boats were built for fishing, enjoyment, and transportation.
The original evidence of rowing as a sport and leisure was witnessed in 1430 BC in the river Nile in Egypt. During the time, the Egyptians built a funerary carving for King Pharaoh for his extraordinary skills in rowing. It is believed that the pharaoh Amenhotep II competed against other skilled rowers in Egypt and the king emerged the winner on several counts. This is thought to be the origin of rowing as a sport in Egypt. Rowing developed by being practiced because of its trade, war, and sports benefits.
Rowing demanded more physical power; therefore, the boat had the leaders who had a task of harmonizing their crew members to manage the sail. The leader encouraged teamwork from the members. Mostly, the leader used verbal cues to give out directives to the crew. The leader was to harmonize and give instructions to the crew for them to accurately propel the boat in the desired direction. Besides, the leader was also responsible for controlling the motion of the ship through a system. The leader would signify how the boat should be moving by controlling how the rowing was done. This phenomenon is still present in the modern rowing art.
Pieces of evidence of the boats that were used in the old Egyptian kingdom were discovered at Abydos and Tarkhan. The evidence is a demonstration of how ships were constructed in the Egyptian kingdom. The boats at that time were 25 meters in length and three meters in breadth (Stephens & Allen 116). Therefore, the ship could carry a maximum of 30 rowers on board. Besides, the boats were painted and had narrow prows and sterns. The thick woods were fastened together by use of ropes and mortises. The space between the planks was sealed by using papyrus reeds to prevent water from entering the boat and eventually capsizing. The boats were propelled by two hanging oars which were held by rowers using both hands. Because this was a tedious activity, later on, the oars were fastened to the edges of the boat. However, steering the ship was still an uphill task. Finally, Egypt is full of evidence demonstrating the art of rowing in the ancient times.
Rowing in England
Rowing in England is traced back to the late 17th century when Cambridge University competed against the Oxford University in a boat race. However, the sport was inaugurated in around 1829. During the 19th century, rowing as a sport was widely spread and thus exported to the United States. Amateur rowing in England begun in 1815 when students at Oxford University formed a club and started to compete against themselves. Students at the Cambridge university also formed their club a moment afterward to counter the Oxford University team. The two clubs met in the first competition in 1829. However, the clubs used professional rowers to steer their boats and therefore the professional watermen were banned from participating in the amateur rowing races. This led to the development of the amateurism code which has facilitated the growth of the sport. Therefore, like any other sport, rowing had its first laws to guide the conduct of the players and the game in general. Amateur rowing competitions were witnessed in England in the 17th century where teams competed majorly for fun. During the time, clubs such as Monarch Boat and Isis were the dominant participants (Wigglesworth &Neil 98). In the 17th century, the sport was majorly held by colleges and universities in England, and therefore competitions were held at institutional levels and not the general public. Based on the documentary evidence, other clubs such as the Arrow Club and the Star Club were also present in the 17th century. Amateur male competitors majorly dominated these clubs.
In the 18th century, boatmen offering taxi and ferry service that took people across the river Thames shed light into rowing as a sport. The boatmen held boat races among themselves whereby the winner was given monetary prizes. The rowing races on the Thames river among the competitors led to the development of the modern day rowing competitions as a sporting activity. The first registered rowing competition in England happened in 1715. During the event, a comedian known as Thomas Doggett promised an orange coat and a silver badge to the winning club. This was the initial development of taking rowing as an economic activity apart from the typical sporting notion. Since that time, the rowing race for Doggett badge and coat is carried out annually in England between Chelsea and London Bridge. The popularity and the success of the boat race led to the annual Regatta in Henley town in 1839. Henley Royal Regatta is a sporting and social event where the spectators and the participants adorn formal rowing regalia. In the 19th century, there were numerous rowing races, and therefore, the sport became popular and recognized all around England. The sport attracted more spectators and financiers thereby making the sport most enjoyable. Besides, there was a proliferation of professional clubs competing for various prizes organized at national and international levels now that the sport was included in the Olympic games. Rowing happened throughout England and became popular on rivers especially the Tyne.
Rowing in The United States
Rowing has continued to be a crucial part of human experience especially in the United States. Rowing emerged from a growing necessity of transportation of human beings into becoming a dominant sport that attracts spectators and contesters worldwide. Rowing was one of the first sports to be contested in the United States. In the modern United States, the sport attracts people of all backgrounds. Rowing is one of the Olympic games that is highly popular in the United States. The contested titles and rights are coveted and vied with high spirits and passion.
There still does not exist an official record indicating when exactly rowing entered into America. However, the first official race to be recorded happened in 1756 in the New York Harbor (Garran & Daniella 56 ). The availability of ports such as new York, Boston, and Philadelphia led to the need for construction of more rowing boats. Therefore, rowing was inevitable in the United States because of the need for the rowers to exhibit their sailing prowess. During the race, a cape cod was defeated by a putti auger, and after that, rowing gained popularity. Immediately rowing entered the United States it was embraced by students in colleges especially the students who formed teams that competed against one another for fun. This means that rowing races are associated with intercollegiate sports in America. Therefore, ever since the 1800s, rowing is regarded as the oldest interuniversity competition in America. The Oxford Rowing Club existed ever since that time and entered into official competitions in around 1815. Therefore, the mutual relationship between colleges brought the art of rowing as a sport to America. As a result, several other universities in America embraced the art. These universities included Yale and Harvard. These universities played a vital role in ensuring that the sport is well popularized and diffused to other parts of the United States.
The initial rowing race in the United States happened in 1762 at Schuylkill. The sport gained more approval from the public, and therefore the potential rowers formed teams and started competing for prizes. As the sport gained popularity, clubs were formed, and scullers began racing for prizes. Professional rowers clubs used to compete against the amateurs during this period, and in that way, they trained the amateur who then joined the professional clubs. On the other hand, the professionals competed against themselves until the beginning of the American civil wars. During this period the competition involved the rowers moving in round trips to the end of the river, and then they come back. The first to reach the destination and back to the starting point was considered the winner. The residents gathered in this places to watch the competition, and from experience, more rowers started participating in the game. This made rowing one of the popular sports in the United States in the 19th century.
On a different account, Whitehall Landing ferrymen in Manhattan Battery competed for a thousand dollars in 1824. During this competition, the crew raced from the British frigate. This event attracted more spectators and competitors from both nations. Thousands placed their bets on the likeliest crew to emerge the first in the race. The American crew won. Narragansett boating club is one of the oldest clubs in the United States. The Narragansett boating club was formed in 1838 by a group of six men in Providence. After that, the first official university rowing club in America was formed in 1843 by Yale University in the United States. Besides, the Yale-Harvard Regatta is regarded as the oldest interuniversity rowing event in the United States. The competition was held in 1852 and is contested annually since that year.
Significant milestones in rowing
Rowing as a sport has been in the Olympics since the 18th century. However, the only period when rowing failed to happen in the international competition was in Athens, Greece in 1896. This is because of the stormy sea during this time, even though the sport was scheduled to take place. Rowing has had tremendous progress regarding its influence on the spectators and the rowers. A major shift has happened in the contemporary world whereby people no longer view rowing as a pastime but also a source of income to the participators. Rowing attracts more crowds to view the racing, and as a result, other companies are holding betting events. Therefore, rowing is strategically having its way into people’s daily activities and influencing their financial status in the United States.
Furthermore, a major step in rowing occurred when women were allowed to participate in the rowing events. Even though women participated in rowing, their presence in the Olympics was restricted. Women have taken part in rowing competitions for more than hundred years. However, starting 1976, women had their first debut at the Olympics in Montreal. Since that period, women participation in the Olympics has been boosted. Specifically, the United States women clubs have bagged trophies and gold medals from the Olympics thereby impacting on the impressive performance the country has had in the amateur rowing competitions. Besides, the Olympic competition that happened in Atlanta in 1996 recorded the lightweight event’s introduction into the international rowing races. This allowed more women to form clubs and participate in the international competitions against other clubs (Osborne, Carol & Fiona 103). Until the 1960s, United States was the dominant participant in the rowing competitions. The United States registered a 36 year successive run in the rowing race until the Soviet Union took the mantle. Moreover, Soviet Union also lost to the East Germans in around 1970s-1980s. In the present rowing competitions, the German team is regarded as the best among other teams in the world such as the Great Britain, Italy, the United States, Netherlands, Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand and Romania.
Most successful rowers in the world include Steve Redgrave from the great Britain. He is feted for winning the gold medal in five successive Olympic competitions. On the other hand, Mathew Pinsent from the Great Britain also won the gold medal in four consecutive Olympic games. Others include James Tomkins and Rob Waddell from Australia and new Zealand respectively for winning the gold medal in three consecutive Olympic games. In the 20th century, rowing gained much more popularity and became an official sport in the Olympic games. On the other hand, it is regarded as one among the original competition of the Olympic . from the 1920s, America had a gold medal streak for 36 successive years in the eight division for men.
The “Federation Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron” (FISA) was formed in Turin by delegates from Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Italy on 1892. FISA is recognized as the first international federation of sports in Olympic. Besides, the Federation successfully planned for the rowing championship in Europe in 1962.
In conclusion, rowing is one of the emerging sports in the Olympics attracting more fan base across the world. The sport started from humble beginnings as a traveling method and has metamorphic t become one of the leading sports in the Olympics. However, the activity of rowing as an art has not changed from the old methods of rowing. This is in contrast to the new and ever bulging fan base and popularity the sport is attracting. The competition has attracted more reverence across the world for the humongous fans base and popularity. Rowing has continued to be a pastime and source of revenue as evidenced by the ferrymen in providing transportation services in the river Thames in the 18th century. Up to now, many rowing competitions take place in River Thames. Besides, Henley Royal Regatta is an annual rowing competition that happens in river Thames and is regarded as the most revered racing games worldwide. Moreover, the fans still dress in formal rowing regalia until now. On the other hand, rowing in the United States continues to be a pastime and a sport that is popular in coastal cities such as new York and Boston. Finally, gauging from the tremendous steps in the history of rowing, it is evident that the sports twill diffuse to other regions that have access to water bodies although they do not treasure rowing as a sport especially some parts of Asia and Africa.
Garran, Daniella K. A History of Collegiate Rowing in America. 1st ed. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2012.
Osborne, Carol A and Fiona Skillen. Women in Sports History. 1st ed. Oxon [England]: Routledge, 2011.
Stephens, Michael Allen. A Categorizationand Examination Of Egyptian Ships and Boats From The Rise Of The Old To The End Of The Middle Kingdoms. 1st ed. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2012.
Wigglesworth, Neil. The Social History Of English Rowing. 1st ed. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2013.
Woods, Michael and Mary B Woods. Ancient Transportation Technology. 1st ed. Minneapolis, MN: Twenty-First Century Books, 2011.